Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tips for Writing Kids' Plays

If you write for children, don't limit yourself to traditional fiction. Use your story-telling skills to create plays kids will love. Here are a few suggestions about how to do it:

                         1)     Be realistic. Your script probably won't be performed on Broadway or turned into a blockbuster movie. Avoid special effects, amazing stunts, or anything else that can't be accomplished by ordinary kids. Keep costumes, sets, and props to a minimum. Writing in the readers theatre format is one of the best ways to create a play that's simple to stage but exciting in content.

2)     Use an adjustable cast.  Of course, you want to follow publishers' guidelines about size of cast and number of female/male roles. But you can make your play adaptable to various situations by building in some casting flexibility. When possible, include group characters like "Other Students" or "Rest of Student Council." Use some unisex names for characters or double up on titles, such as "Aunt/Uncle" or "Mr./Ms." Adding a narrator provides a large  and handy gender neutral part.

3)     Spread the glory around. Not only is it difficult for one kid to carry most of a play, it's just no fun. All the actors want to have their moment – and their parents expect to see it. Instead of letting your main character do all the talking, distribute lines among a number of roles. If you use group characters (see #2), give them lines that allow for adlibs so everyone gets to say something. For example:
             Other Students: What? Are you kidding? I don't believe it! (Etc.)
           And most importantly, give secondary characters interesting personalities and some problems of their own – that makes them fun to play and entertaining to watch.

4)     Make sure your dialogue rings true. Some characters need to sound pompous, old-fashioned, affected, formal, or otherwise theatrical. Those parts are usually easy to write! Creating realistic dialogue for contemporary young characters can be much more challenging. Real kids don't speak lyrically, reciting over-their-heads vocabulary with perfect grammar. They use contractions and slang, start new sentences without finishing old ones, and interrupt each other. Listen to kids talk to get an idea of how to recreate their conversations, read your dialogue out loud with a critical ear, and polish, polish, polish. Nothing is more essential to a good play than well-written dialogue!  

5)     Step outside the box. Today's kids are used to media that breaks boundaries. They've experienced actors who speak directly to the camera, characters who "know" they're in a television program, and games that allow almost-real interaction. So don’t be afraid to experiment a little with your play! Let the narrator express personal opinions about what's happening onstage. Allow your main character to argue with the narrator. Place a heckler in the audience or bring an audience member on stage. This kind of creativity works especially well in humorous scripts, but it can also add emotional impact to serious plays.

6)     Tell a story. Despite its different format, a play is still a story – and you want to make it a good one! Create a relatable main character, give him/her a problem worth caring about, go through a complete story arc, end up with a good lesson that's not too heavy-handed, etc., etc., just as you would when writing a kids' story or book. This doesn't just apply to serious drama – funny plays need to be well-written, too! Skits constructed of nothing but jokes, gags, and one-liners can be fun, but they're not really satisfying to audiences, young performers, or the adults who work with kids. Make your script meaningful, as well as entertaining. That's the kind of play that gets published and performed!

Want to sell your plays? Here are some possible markets.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Aaaaw....How Nice!

 I received the One Lovely Blog Award! 

Here are the rules for accepting this award: 

• Thank the person who nominated you for the award. 

Thank you, Donna Shepherd, for blessing me today. 

• Add the One Lovely Blog logo to your post. 

 • Share 7 things about yourself.
 • Nominate up to 15 bloggers you admire and inform the nominees by commenting on their blog. 

7 things people might not know about me: 

1. I don't believe in broccoli on pizza. It's just wrong.
2. I took dancing lessons as a kid.
3, But they haven't helped with Zumba at all!
4. I taught myself to read music.
5. I can sing the alphabet backwards.
6. My best yoga position is savasana (corpse pose).
7. I love Indian food!

Now to nominate SOME of the other bloggers deserving of this award. Check out these lovely blogs: 

Congratulations, fellow bloggers! Now pass it on!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Using Readers Theatre with Small Groups

Do you hesitate to use plays with your students because you’re dealing with such a small group? Whether you’re a special education teacher, homeschooler, religious educator, or involved parent, readers theatre can work for you and your kids! Here are some suggestions to help you modify theatre activities for your situation:

1. Cut! Mark out minor characters’ lines and eliminate nonessential scenes.

2. Take turns. Just round robin read instead of assigning parts. Everybody gets to read about the same amount and try out different roles.

3. There are no small parts…. Assign the big roles to the kids, then do all the small roles yourself. Or let one kid do all the small roles. (This is great for practicing different voices.)

4. Make do with two. If you only have two students – or just yourself and one student – then divide and conquer. Have one person do all the male roles while another does all the female roles. Or assign one large role and a few small roles to each actor. Or split up the adults’ and children’s roles. (It’s fun and funny for you to play the kids!)

5. Take a chance. Have everyone randomly draw characters’ names until all parts are assigned.

6. Put the narrator on a “soundtrack.” Record someone – yourself, a student, or a special “guest star” – reading the narrator’s part ahead of time. Then play the tape between the “live” reading of other parts.

For other theatre suggestions, go to my website and click on the theatre tab.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Advent and Christmas are Just Around the Corner!

If you're looking for a kids' book about this special time of year, consider Celebrate the Season! Twelve Short Stories for Advent and Christmas available at Pauline Books. This collection (which includes some of my stories) evokes the joy and meaning of the season. Kids 8-12 years old enjoy the stories, and teachers and parents find the book useful since each story is follow by "Questions to Think and Talk About." Would it make a nice gift for someone on your Christmas list?

Friday, September 26, 2014

What is Readers Theatre Anyway?

Readers’ theater is easier theater! Actors don’t memorize their lines—they simply read from their scripts. Because memorization isn’t an issue, more students are able to handle large roles. Also, extensive rehearsal isn’t necessary. And, unlike “regular” theater, a readers’ theater production isn’t thrown into a tailspin by memory lapses or absences.

Other aspects of readers’ theater are easy, too. Sets, costumes, props, and even movement are not needed as the plays are written to work without them. The extras can be included if desired, but readers’ theater works even if the actors just sit there and read!

How Do I Get Started?
Before you use a readers’ theater play, read it yourself and make sure the content, theme, and vocabulary are appropriate for your students. Decide whether you need to preview any concepts or vocabulary. If you are thinking about staging the play for an audience, consider which students might fit which roles, but don’t set your cast just yet.

Once you decide on a play, make as many copies of the script as there are parts plus one for yourself. Highlight one character’s lines in each copy (except yours) to make it easier for kids to read. Covering or binding scripts will help them last through multiple readings.

After giving students time to read through their scripts silently, have them read the play aloud, changing roles with each scene if you wish. This kind of read-through makes a good, one-time, supplemental activity, but you can do much more with readers’ theater!

For example, you could have students read a particular script multiple times on different days. The repetition gives you several opportunities to teach comprehension skills like character traits, motivation, story structure, theme, and cause-and-effect. And rereading allows kids to relax about the reading itself and develop a deeper understanding of the characters and theme of the play.

Multiple readings also improve fluency and expression. You can help with these skills by asking questions about the characters’ feelings and motivation. If a student has difficulty with expression, “echo reading” can help. You model his lines with good expression and have him copy you. It doesn’t usually take much of this practice to get a young actor on the right track. Allowing students to record themselves as they read their lines and listen afterwards also develops better expression.

After several readings, you might want to move students from their seats to a traditional readers’ theater set-up. The actors in readers’ theater usually sit on stools or chairs throughout the play, holding and reading their scripts. Sometimes the actors sit with their backs to the audience, “entering” by facing front and reading their lines and “exiting” by turning around again. The narrator might stand to one side or read from a lectern. This kind of staging can make readers’ theater more fun for your students and motivate them to further improve their performances.

For more about theater, go to my website and click on the Theatre for Teachers tab.

And here are some readers theatre collections I wrote:

     These humorous readers theatre scripts offer real-life settings and contemporary characters. Each play pokes gentle fun at annoying traits, school-based dilemmas, or the embarrassing moments that are part of growing up. With resolutions that emphasize creative solutions, humor, or cleverness, these plays work to improve language arts skills. (Grades 4 to 8)

     This collection of humorous, contemporary plays is organized around special times of year such as holidays, the first day of school, a snow day, etc. Teachers can find an appropriate readers theatre script at almost any time with this valuable resource, and kids will have fun improving their language arts skills as they perform these plays. (Grades 6 to 8) 

     Twelve humorous readers theater scripts engage and entertain students in fourth through eighth grades. The book includes a play for every month of the year. Each script features a contemporary kid in a real-life situation—and a saint who helps him or her solve the problem! (Grades 4 to 8)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How Great is This Book?

How Strong is an Ant? and Other Questions About Bugs and Insects is a well-written and well-researched book that will appeal to readers age six and up. As always, Mary Kay Carson's language is lively, clear, and kid-friendly. The book is packed with the basic information young readers need to know about this topic, but Carson also includes other fascinating facts and quirky details. (Did you know cockroaches hear with hairs on the end of their abdomens?) The question-and-answer format of the book will keep even reluctant readers turning the pages. Photographs and AMAZING illustrations by Carol Schwartz bring the insect world to life and perfectly complement the text. I highly recommend this book! Get it here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Better Writing with Hook Books!

I saw a dog. He was brown. He was cute. I liked him.

Do your students write simple sentences like these? As a special education teacher, I had trouble getting my kids to write more complex and interesting sentences…until a teacher friend told me about hook books. (Thanks, Carol!) I don’t know where the method originated. I’d love to give credit to whoever thought it up as it was quite effective! (And I'd like to know why they're called "hook books." Were the originals hung from hooks? Did they get the name because they "hook" kids on better writing?) Here’s how it works:

Day One: Write a simple and boring sentence on the board or overhead. Then have students come up with adjectives to add to the sentence. (You may have to explain what adjectives are and adjust the number to the ability of your students) Encourage a variety of adjectives. (“We already have a color word. Can you think of another word to describe _______?” After the list of adjectives is finished, choose one and rewrite the sentence. You’ll end up with something like this:
I saw a dog. (original sentence)
1. brown
2. spotted
3. gigantic
4. scary
I saw a spotted dog.
Have each student copy the above in a notebook designated as a “hook book.” For the sentence, have them choose a different adjective from the list than the one you chose.

Day Two: Put yesterday’s transformed sentence back on the board. Now have students think of more interesting verbs to replace the one in the sentence. (Explain/model as needed.) Choose a verb to further transform the sentence. Students copy it all into their “hook books,” except they transform their own sentences from yesterday. (Again, encourage variety. “’Brushed’ is a good verb, but since we already have ‘combed’ on the list, can you think of another word?”) You’ll have something like this:
I saw a spotted dog.
1. chased
2. combed
3. walked
4. rescued
I rescued a spotted dog.
Day Three: Now you move on to prepositional phrases. If your students don’t know prepositions, post a list, and give examples of prepositional phrases to get them going. As before, students copy from the board but transform their own sentences from yesterday.
I rescued a spotted dog.
Prepositional phrases:
1. from the pound
2. with my grandfather’s help
3. on my birthday
4. in a terrible storm
I rescued a spotted dog from the pound.

Day Four: Each student goes to a fresh page in his/her hook book, indents, copies over his/her last, transformed sentence, and uses it as the first sentence of a paragraph or longer story. (You adjust according to students’ needs.)

Day Five: Students help each other edit their stories. (Or on Day Four, you can check and mark their stories or conference with them individually.) Then each makes a good copy of his/her story with an illustration if desired.

This activity only takes a few minutes each day, especially after you’ve done it several times. Kids begin to understand parts of speech and sentence structure, and you can refer to this activity to get them to write better sentences at other times. (“How about adding an adjective?" "Can you come up with a more interesting verb?" "Please add a prepositional phrase.”) Gradually you can require students to do more of the activity on their own. Eventually you can just supply the stimulus sentence, and the hook book can be a daily, independent activity!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It's that time again!

It's time for school to start! Here's a handy resource for teachers to use throughout the school year. (Yes, it's one of mine from ABC-CLIO!)  All Year Long! Funny Readers Theatre for Life's Special Times  offers easy-to-use plays themed to different times of the year -- first day of school, Labor Day, Columbus Day, St. Valentine's Day, a snow day, etc., etc. Check out this video about the book. (It's the first one I ever made using Movie Maker, a program that, unbeknowst to me for quite some time, was lurking on my computer!)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Great New Ebook for Teens!


True Colors is a fun read with a good message. Author Krysten Lindsay Hager understands what it means to be a teen today, and she writes with an authentic voice. Landry, the main character, is funny, lively, and very real. Readers will relate to her struggles with friends and family, self-esteem and self-discovery, boys and school and life in general. It's fun to read about Landry's blossoming modeling career and the changes it brings. I'm hoping for a True Colors sequel so I can find out what happens next for Landry!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Amazing new book!

I really enjoyed Reporting Under Fire – 16 Daring Women War Correspondents and Photojournalists by my talented author friend Kerrie Logan HollihanThe extensive research behind the book is impressive, but Kerrie does more than just lay out the facts about these female journalists. She places each woman in historical context and helps readers relate to the culture, the events, and the issues of her times. With skillful storytelling, entertaining anecdotes, powerful quotes, and intriguing photos, Kerrie brings these sixteen inspiring women to life for both young and adult readers. I highly recommend this fascinating book! Get it here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Press Release for My New Book!

New Faith-based Book Helps Teachers and Parents Communicate With Tweens and Teens

Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction, a resource book, by Diana R. Jenkins, helps adults discuss sensitive subjects with kids and guide them as they face the moral challenges of the tween and teen years.

Today's young teens will face many challenges before they reach adulthood, and they'll need guidance. But it's not easy for adults to open up discussion on uncomfortable subjects....

Read more here!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Can't Wait to Read This Book!

Kerrie Logan Hollihan, author of  Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids: His Life and Ideas; Elizabeth I, the People's Queen: Her Life and Times; Theodore Roosevelt for Kids: His Life and Times; and other great biographies for young readers has a new book out! (Isn't the cover great?) 
Reporting Under Fire: 16 Daring Women War Correspondents and Photojournalists profiles courageous female journalists who risked their lives to share the reality of war. I'm hearing great things about this book, and I'm starting it now!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour Continues!

Keila Dawson, author of the delightful picture book The King Cake Baby, invited me to participate in this Writing Process Blog Tour. When I met Keila at our local SCBWI, I knew she'd be a writing success! Be sure to check out her responses to the writing process questions on her blog.

And here are mine:

What am I currently working on?

Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction just came out so I'm working on promoting the book. It's funny how much time that kind of thing takes!

I'm also working on a middle grade novel about a spunky girl nobody wants. Progress is slow because I work on it sporadically, and I'm experimenting with writing without an outline.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There are lots of great faith-based values education materials, but Tackling Tough Topics is different in that it uses fiction. Kids connect with stories in a different way than they do with nonfiction. They get emotionally involved, relate to the characters, and wonder how things are going to come out in the end. All that opens them up to receiving the good message you're trying to get across.

Why do I write what I write?

I was a special education teacher for many years, and I view writing as another way to teach. I hope to help kids lead better lives, make good moral decisions, and grow up to be the people they want to be.

How does my individual writing process work?

It's a torturous process of writing then deleting then rewriting then rephrasing then moving along a while then realizing what I'm doing is not going to work and deleting then rewriting and so on and so on until I "rassle" the story into submission and feel really good until I start the next project! It's not pretty.

To continue the Writing Process Blog Tour, I'm tagging writer and illustrator Virginia Wright. (She is a fascinating person. Read about her below!) Virginia's answers to the writing process questions will appear on her blog on June 9.

Besides writing and illustrating, Virginia loves taking photographs of everything that catches her eye -- oddities, nature, and food. (Yup, she's a foodie, too, and has a recipe blog). She stated that she had hundreds upon hundreds, no, into the thousands now, of photographs and illustrations on her computer files. One of her favorite hobbies is creating artwork from her photographic images--combining real life photographs with digital painting. (She calls this "digital artistry.") Her current WIP, writing and illustrating, is a book for toddlers titled: Wild Animal Sounds.

Follow and friend her here: Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/virginiabrownwright

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Radio Interview

Thanks to Wendy Wiese for interviewing me on her radio program last Friday. I really enjoyed talking to her about communicating with kids -- and about my new book Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction. If you missed the interview, you can listen now by clicking this link, then "On Call," then May 23. The first half hour is an interesting interview with two Pauline sisters talking about their books, and my interview is the second half hour. Thanks, everyone, for your support!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Radio Interview!

I'm being interviewed by Wendy Wiese on Relevant Radio this Friday between 2:00 and 3:00! I'll be talking about my new book, Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction. You can listen live here. Just click on "Listen Now." Or you can stream it later. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Late Lent Story

My Light Magazine

Yes, I know Lent is over, but I thought I'd share a kids' story I had published online by My Light Magazine. It's called "Lent Later," which, yes, is kind of ironic! Check out the rest of this nice Catholic magazine while you're there.

Friday, April 18, 2014

There's nothing like....

....getting your author copies! It's so exciting to see Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction in print. Thanks so much to everybody at Pauline Books and Media for making it happen!

Monday, April 7, 2014

New Book Out!

My new book, Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction, is out! This faith-based resource uses fiction to help you talk to 11-14-year-olds about sensitive issues like pornography, cyberbullying, depression, and more. Also included are statistics, Scriptural and Catechism connections, discussion questions, activities, and other helpful features. Get it here!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Coming Soon!

My new book, Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction will be out soon! I wrote this resource for teachers, catechists, parents, homeschoolers, and anybody else who wants help talking about difficult topics with kids 11 to 14 years old. Each chapter uses a reproducible story, discussion questions, activities, scripture references, and other material to show the value of faith in difficult times and sensitive situations. The topics covered are: pornography, cyberbullying modesty, family, body image, materialism, dishonesty, substance abuse,stress to overachieve, and depression. More news later!

Friday, January 17, 2014

7 Things I've Learned So Far

If only I'd known these things when I started my writing journey! (BTW, this article originally appeared on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog.)

      1.      If you’re not sick of what you’re writing then it’s not finished. You don’t want to hear it and I don’t want to believe it, but this is the sad, sad…oh-so-sad truth about writing. A good piece takes more revising than you think you can stand, but you have to do it anyway. Again and again. Of course, it’s helpful to set your work aside for a while to ferment, but then you’ll need to…

2.      Revise again. Sorry! There’s just no way around it.

3.      Procrastinate tomorrow. Write now. You may have heard the story (legend?) about the wealthy patron who visited Michelangelo and found him staring at a huge block of marble. Eventually Michelangelo would create the statue of David from the marble, but at the moment he appeared to be accomplishing nothing. The upset patron demanded, “What are you doing?” Michelangelo replied, “I’m working.” The art of writing takes mental preparation, too, but don’t tell yourself you’re Michelangelo when you’re just stalling around. Start chipping away!

4.      Don’t waste a word. Back story? We don’t need no stinkin’ back story! Jump right into the action and work in any important information as you go along. Keep description to a minimum – just enough to make the story come alive for your readers and no more! Use powerful verbs and ax the adverbs. And make sure every bit of dialogue reveals something important about character and/or advances the plot.

5.      Read your work aloud. Or at least do that whispery thing where you move your lips and pretend you’re reading out loud. That’s one of the best ways to find too-long sentences, awkward phrasing, grammar errors, repetitious word choices, and stilted dialogue. If you have to read something over and over to make it sound smooth then it probably needs work. (See #1 and #2 above.)

6.      “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” That good advice comes from William Faulkner. Samuel Johnson said it another way: “Read over your composition and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Sometimes you have to look at what you’ve written with a cold eye and a heart of stone. Lovingly crafted scenes, lyrical prose, clever displays of wit, and real-life anecdotes should do more than show off your talent. Painful as it is, you must put the knife to anything that doesn’t also serve the story.

7.      We’re on a journey. And your main character should be, too. Of course, his external journey makes up your plot, but don’t forget the internal journey. If the main character doesn’t have one, then why should readers care about him? And if he doesn’t change in some way by the end of the story, then you don’t actually have a story! Clarify the main character’s personal journey before you even start writing then keep it in mind all through the process. Doing this will help you maintain the focus you need to write something amazing.